Covid-19 🦠 Newsbites
Vanuatu reports first Covid-19 case since outbreak began
The small South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, one of the last remaining countries to be untouched by the pandemic, reported its first Covid-19 case on Tuesday.

The asymptomatic case was a 23-year-old man who returned to the island on November 4 after traveling to the US, Vanuatu's health ministry said Tuesday.

He tested positive during a routine screening on the fifth day of his quarantine.

"Physical distancing and personal protection measures were applied and maintained during the flight, throughout the arrival process, during transport to and during registration at the quarantine facility," the ministry said in a press release.

Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh tests positive for Covid-19 after prison release
Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has tested positive for Covid-19 after being released from jail, according to her husband Reza Khandan.

Khandan said in a Facebook post Tuesday that the couple were screened for coronavirus when they went to the hospital for Nasrin's cardiological test.

"Today, it has been announced Nasrin's test was positive and my result has not come yet," the post read.

Sotoudeh is well known for representing human rights defenders, dissidents and women who protested against the compulsory wearing of a headscarf in Iran.

The human rights lawyer was temporarily released from Gharchak Prison on Saturday in the city of Varamin, south of Tehran, due to deteriorating health, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

Sotoudeh is serving a 38-year sentence, 12 years of which she must fulfill before becoming eligible for parole, according to previous CNN reporting citing her family.

This $1 made-in-Africa Covid-19 test kit could revolutionize testing on the continent
For the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak began, Africa may be poised to reshape rapid testing for the virus on the continent.

The Pasteur Institute, a biomedical research center based in Senegal's capital city of Dakar, says it is close to producing an affordable, handheld Covid-19 diagnostic test kit that can give results in a matter of minutes.

The institute is running a new venture called DiaTropix, which has been working in partnership with five research organizations since March, including Mologic in the UK, to create the test kit.

Amadou Sall, director of the Pasteur Institute and DiaTropix, told CNN that the biomedical center hopes the kit will cost as little as $1 to purchase.

"This is a very simple technology, like a pregnancy test that you can use everywhere at the community level, which is important for Africa," he said.

According to Mologic, this rapid test kit does not require electricity or need laboratory analysis.

Instead, it consists of a simple test strip housed in a plastic unit and uses a small blood sample collected by pricking a finger, much like tools used to test insulin. The blood is tested for coronavirus-related antibodies, and the result is shown on the test strip.

CDC now says masks protect both the wearers and those around them from Covid-19
Wearing a mask can help protect you -- not just those around you -- from coronavirus transmission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in new guidance Tuesday. This updates its previous suggestion that the main benefit of mask wearing was to help prevent infected people from spreading the virus to others.

Cloth masks act as "source control" to block virus particles exhaled by the wearer and provide "filtration for personal protection" by blocking incoming infectious droplets from others, the agency said.

The new guidance cites a number of studies showing that masks reduce the risk of transmitting or catching the virus by more than 70% in various instances. One study revealed mutual mask use helped prevent two infected hair stylists from transmitting the virus to 67 clients who were later interviewed. Another followed infected people who spent more than 10 hours on flights without infecting other passengers when masks were used.

The Ohio governor issues a mask mandate, joining other states that are implementing new restrictions.
Some have pleaded. Some cajoled. Some scolded. Some invoked the past, some the future.

Since Election Day, more than one-third of the governors across the United States have issued public appeals for people to take coronavirus prevention measures seriously, as the number of cases and hospitalizations spike in most of the country.

... Numerous governors warned that new mandatory measures, which many have avoided, might be coming if mounting case counts put severe pressure on medical facilities.

Three more White House staffers test positive, at least one of them after attending an election night event.
Three more White House staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, including at least one, the political director, Brian Jack, who attended an election night event at the White House, people familiar with the diagnoses said on Wednesday.

Mr. Jack tested positive over the weekend, one of the people said.

Three other people had previously tested positive after attending the election night event: Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff; Ben Carson, the housing secretary; and David Bossie, an adviser to Mr. Trump who is leading the charge on lawsuits and other efforts related to contesting the election outcome in several states.

Several hundred people gathered at the event in the East Room for several hours, many of them not wearing masks as they mingled and watched election returns.

Maryland football halts all activities and cancels game against Ohio State after players test positive.
The University of Maryland halted its football-related activities on Wednesday and canceled its game this weekend against Ohio State after eight players tested positive for the virus within the past seven days.

In total, four SEC games set for this weekend were delayed because of positive tests across programs.

“Numbers around contact tracing have emerged as one of our biggest challenges to playing,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey in a call with reporters Wednesday. “Adjustments have to continually be made.”

The Big Ten, unlike the SEC and some other conferences, planned to not reschedule games this season that cannot be played because of the pandemic.

The Surging Coronavirus Finds a Federal Leadership Vacuum
The winter wave has been anticipated for months. Now that it’s here, health officials worry once again about strategy and supplies.

Coronavirus infections and deaths are rising fast. The Trump administration remains largely disengaged.

The White House task force has been all but publicly silent. Shortages of personal protective equipment are back, and governors are again competing with one another and big hospital chains for scarce gear.

... The Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency reserve, has only 115 million N95 masks, far short of the 300 million the administration had hoped to amass by winter, Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who retired on Monday as the national supply chain commander, said in a recent interview, though he added that the government is continuing to expand its supplies of protective gear.

Dr. Shikha Gupta, the executive director of Get Us PPE, a volunteer effort that matches available supplies to health care providers, said 70 percent of those requesting help from the organization last month reported being completely out of some gear, especially masks, gloves and disinfecting wipes.

“Health care workers are exhausted and frustrated, and it’s really hard to believe that on Nov. 10, it feels very much like the middle of March all over again,” she said.

Governors are once again competing with one another and big hospital chains for scarce gear. Nursing homes are grappling with staff shortages, which have left hospitals unable to discharge patients to their care. In Wisconsin, the situation is so severe that health officials are mulling a plan to train family members of nursing home residents to fill in at facilities that lack enough workers.

... But as the country enters what may be the most intense stage of the pandemic yet, the Trump administration remains largely disengaged. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is trying to assume a leadership mantle, with the appointment of a coronavirus advisory board and a call for all Americans to wear masks, but until his inauguration on Jan. 20, he lacks the authority to mobilize a federal response.

“With 1,000 deaths per day, it’s like two jumbo jets dropping from the sky,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University. “If every day, two jumbo jets would drop from the sky and kill everybody, don’t you think that everybody would be in a panic?”

... Beyond Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed, the federal bully pulpit — an essential component of an effective infectious disease response — has largely gone silent. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview on Tuesday that the vaccine would be “a game changer” over time.

But a vaccine is not an immediate panacea, and until doses become widely available — likely in mid-2021 — the nation is in a “difficult situation,” he said, that calls for Americans to wear masks and social distance, and to avoid crowded settings, particularly indoors.

“My message to the American public is: Hang on, help is coming, a vaccine is on its way, we need to all pull together,” Dr. Fauci said.

Washington’s leadership void is raising anxiety in states and cities.

... Even many large hospital chains, which say they have adequate supplies of medical gear, continue to operate in crisis mode. That often means requiring employees to repeatedly reuse respirator masks that are meant to be discarded after each use.

N.Y. will limit private gatherings and require bars and restaurants to close daily at 10 p.m.
Coronavirus restrictions are tightening in New York.

As of Friday, the state will ban private indoor gatherings of more than 10 people and require bars and restaurants to close nightly at 10 p.m. The New York City area had seemed to keep the virus relatively contained, but infection rates have begun to increase sharply in the tristate area.

Staten Island, which once bristled at coronavirus restrictions, now has the highest positive test rate in the city.

... “Bars, restaurants, gyms, house parties,” Mr. Cuomo said on a conference call with reporters. “That’s where it’s coming from, primarily.”

After months when the New York City area had seemed to keep the pandemic relatively contained, the virus has again increased sharply in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the region that was once at the center of the U.S. outbreak.

White House coronavirus advisor Scott Atlas slams Fauci as a 'political animal' for sounding 'upbeat' over COVID-19 vaccine results
  • Scott Atlas, a coronavirus adviser to President Donald Trump, slammed Dr. Anthony Fauci as "a political animal" on Tuesday.
  • Atlas appeared on Fox News with host Laura Ingraham, who commented on Fauci's "upbeat" tone on the coronavirus pandemic since Election Day.
  • Fauci on Tuesday predicted that a vaccine will hopefully be available to Americans by April, following drugmaker Pfizer's positive news about its coronavirus vaccine candidate.
  • "Well maybe he's cheered up because of the election," Atlas said.
  • Since Atlas joined the White House coronavirus task force, tensions between him and other members, including Fauci, have escalated.

Trump officials say the president's refusal to admit defeat to Biden could slow down a vaccine rollout, according to report
  • Senior Trump administration officials told The Daily Beast that the president's refusal to concede could prolong the coronavirus pandemic and lead to more American deaths.
  • The coronavirus task force has not been allowed to talk to President-elect Biden's team, according to The Daily Beast.
  • The officials told The Daily Beast that without close coordination between the current and incoming administration, there could be significant delays in rolling out a coronavirus vaccine to the public.
  • Public-health experts have been optimistic about Biden's presidency, recently telling Business Insider that his leadership could bring a smoother vaccine rollout and overall decline in cases.